The sinless one to Jordan came

For the next couple of days we move on from the wedding at Cana to another Epiphany theme of revelation, that of Jesus being baptised. This was the occasion when according to all four gospel writers, the Holy Spirit appeared “like a dove”, and according to Matthew, Mark and Luke, God’s voice was heard calling Jesus God’s beloved son. 

Today’s hymn is “The sinless one to Jordan came”. After four verses of the hymn paraphrasing the biblical accounts, the focus in the fifth changes to us, Jesus’s present-day disciples.  In singing it, we ask God to let us “go forth with [him], a world to win” and to send the Holy Spirit “to shield [us] in temptation’s hour”.  This reminds us that baptism is not merely a symbolic act of showing we believe in Christ, but a commitment (at least for those who are baptised as adults) to actively engage in God’s mission in the world. 

It also acknowledges that when we do so, we face opposition – as Jesus was tempted by the Devil immediately after his baptism, so we find ourselves tempted (maybe only by distractions, maybe by something more sinister) whenever we set our face to work with God. We then need both the assurance of God’s love and the sense of his Spirit within us.

The Bible in a Year – 23 November

If this is your first viewing, please see my Introduction before reading this.

23 November. Luke chapters 21-22

The best known Christian prayer is, of course the Lord’s Prayer or Our Father.   It does not appear in these chapters as such, but one of its phrases does.  The one that in the traditional English translation reads “lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil” and is rendered in Scottish English as “do not bring us to the time of trial, but deliver us from evil”.   I prefer that version and use it in my own prayer times.

“You are those who have stood by me in my trials”, Jesus tells his disciples (22:28). Twice, in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus tells them “Pray that you may not come into the time of trial.’” (22:40, 46)   And before that, in the Temple, after predicting the destruction of the Temple and the Jewish way of life, he tells them “Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place” (21:36).

The “times of trial” that Jesus foresaw were many and varied.  From mocking and slander, to discrimination and prejudice, to persecution and martyrdom, his true followers would never have an easy life. For the people of Jerusalem as a whole, he predicted warfare, siege, looting, and fleeing in haste as refugees, never to return.  More than that, he foresaw the eventual end of human civilisation following a time of natural disaster and warfare as nation fights against nation.

Leaving aside for a moment the question of whether any of the signs of the last days are being fulfilled in our time – people have thought so before and been proved wrong – what Jesus is asking of his disciples is a commitment to follow him through these times of trial, whatever happens. They may face poverty – but he sent them out with no money before, and they were fine (22:35). They may be tempted to deny Jesus, as Peter was – and gave in – but for those who repent there is always forgiveness. They would face evil in the form of foreign armies, homelessness (with all the disease and despair associated with refugee camps) and for some, the lions of the Roman amphitheatre.  But Jesus promised to be with them in all of this. Elsewhere he explains that the words would be given to people at the right time by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

For Judas, there was to be no repentance.  He was tempted by the love of money to betray his master, and ended his own life rather than face the consequences. Don’t be like him – pray for the strength to resist temptation, stand up to evil, and turn back when you fail (22:31).

The Bible in a Year – 15 November

If this is your first viewing, please see my Introduction before reading this.

15 November. Luke chapters 4-5

Each of the Gospel writers has different emphases.  Luke was a physician and so it is not surprising that he focuses on the healing miracles of Jesus. But he focuses on other things too.  Unlike Matthew and Mark who suggest that Jesus went straight into a preaching ministry after his baptism, Luke shows Jesus preaching in the synagogues after his baptism (and after the desert temptations).  Only when he is asked to preach on the text from Isaiah about the good news being shown by good deeds does he begin to heal (4:14-19). Even then, “making the blind see” is one of only three signs of the Gospel in that passage, the other being releasing captives and freeing the oppressed.  So for Luke, physical healing from illness or disability was only one aspect of the wholeness that Jesus brought: a right understanding of God and his laws, and freedom from being put down in any way by other people, were at least as important.

Another difference is that Luke has a particular interest in demons and devils.  This is shown in chapter 4 not only in his own desert temptations, but in the demon at Capernaum (34), and the many in Nazareth (41), that recognised him as the “Holy one of God”.  It seems that Jesus knew he had to fight the devil, but wanted to put off that moment as long as necessary.  By resisting the three temptations of working miracles, seeking earthly power and putting God to the test, he made the devil go away “until an opportune time” – which might be seen as the attempt by the men of Nazareth to kill him not long afterwards (29), or as the plots of the Pharisees and the betrayal of Judas that led to his crucifixion three years later.  In between those times, Jesus seems to have been untroubled by demonic activity himself.  Apart from the very few people who genuinely suffer demon possession, for most of us the devil tempts us from time to time, but he does not stick around for long if we don’t take his bait. “Resist the devil and he will flee” (James 4:7).

Finally, I would just like to share an unrelated thought that just came to me as I read about the calling of Levi (5:27-28): “After this he went out and saw a tax-collector named Levi, sitting at the tax booth; and he said to him, ‘Follow me.’ And he got up, left everything, and followed him.”

What happened to Levi’s money?  This money-obsessed man had been sitting at his booth all day raking in the taxes (some of which he would have kept for himself) then accepted Jesus’ call to follow him, and without further ado walked away.  The people around must have wondered when he was going back, but when they realised he was not returning, surely they would have rejoiced and reclaimed the piles of cash for themselves?  When Jesus calls someone to follow him, it is others who benefit.